By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Samantha Leong, Sales Assistant at Ingram, to the WNDB blog to discuss her career as a literary agent. Samantha Leong participated in the 2019 WNDB Internship Grant Program.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to publishing? How did you get your start in the industry?
I have always been an avid reader, and when I got to college, I realized I had no idea what I wanted to major in. I ended up majoring in English, but I realized during my first year, that I couldn’t find a career path I actually was interested in except children’s publishing. So I decided to try it. I started researching as much as I could about the industry. I researched every internship listing I could find and applied for them all. I read blog posts from people already in the industry. I reached out for informational interviews. I researched publishers in Boston and New York and learned that Candlewick Press was ten minutes away from my campus. When you’re first starting out with no publishing experience, you get a lot of no’s, but all it takes is one yes. My first internship was with Scholastic Library Publishing, and I was able to spend the summer doing something I loved.
I’d also love to hear about your experience in the WNDB Internship Program. You interned at Simon & Schuster. What were some of your favorite parts about interning there?
I loved working with the other children’s interns! It was so much fun to compare notes on the different work we each were doing on the same books and learn about what goes on in their departments. They were the first friends I made in the industry, and it makes such a difference to have friends in people who are also starting out with you. Another WNDB intern was also interning at S&S at the same time, and I was so happy to be able to become friends with him. The exposure I got from working with multiple teams (marketing, publicity, and digital) plus the incredible people that I met made that summer an unforgettable experience.
You actually interned at Candlewick twice, first in school and library marketing and then in sales. Why did you want to intern there again and what drew you to the sales side of publishing?
I wanted to intern at Candlewick again because of the friendly people and the collaborative work environment! Everyone is in one building, one floor, so you can walk ten feet into the next department. I love the passion and camaraderie that fills the environment, and I wanted to see how a sales perspective would expand my knowledge of publishing.
From my previous internships in school & library marketing and publicity, I knew that there were so many facets to just one department that I’d never have thought about had I not been an intern (library/educational vs. trade, marketing vs. publicity, knowing your audience, etc). I realized that knowing your audience was key to pitching books, and I wanted to know how to and who to pitch to from a sales standpoint. At Candlewick, I had the opportunity to assist in different areas of sales, including educational, field, and mass merch. This introduction into the sales world actually served as a foundation for my current job as a sales assistant at Ingram, where I work on sales from a different side of the publishing world.
You’re a Tufts alum! That’s local to me, as is Candlewick. Why did you want to go to school in the Boston area instead of NYC? Why did you make the decision to move back to NYC, as many in publishing do? What do you see as different about the NYC publishing world from the Boston one, which is considerably smaller?
I moved to Boston for school because I wanted the experience of living in another city, and though I’ve come to love Boston and all it has to offer, I moved back to New York because I wanted to be closer to my family.
In terms of the publishing world, Boston is definitely smaller than NYC, but it’s also pretty robust. There are publishers and publishing-related places to get involved with if you want to, and every year I looked forward to attending the Boston Book Festival and Boston Teen Author Festival. Boston is pretty close to New York, too, so it’s still relatively easy to attend New York events.
I think the biggest difference about the NYC publishing world is the number of people and publishers in such close proximity. It’s a lot easier to meet other people in the industry and to attend events or gatherings. At least from my observations, the community is there in Boston if you look for it, but it’s easier to find in NYC. I’m really interested to see, though, how the publishing world looks after the pandemic. A lot of publishers are now doing remote internships, which removes a huge barrier to entry to a lot of people!
You’re currently a Sales Assistant at Ingram, right? What do you love most about the work you do?
Since Ingram works with over 500 publishers (with about 100 of them being children’s publishers), I get to learn about so many children’s publishers and books that I wouldn’t know about otherwise. It’s such a unique opportunity to see an overview of all these books each season and challenge myself to find really stand-out titles!
Is there anything you’ve learned about publishing that you wouldn’t have expected when you started out in the industry?
I didn’t expect all the different roles and departments there are in the industry. When people think of publishing, they generally only think of the author and editor, but I learned there’s so much more effort, planning, and people involved in working on a book and introducing it to the world. For example, I had no idea that subsidiary rights were a thing until I talked to people working in that department. I had no idea how much effort is required to take a piece of physical art and translate it into a picture book until I attended some color correcting sessions. It takes a lot of communication between production, the editor, the illustrator, and the printers, which are often overseas. I have so much respect for the effort that all the departments put into every book!
I also did and didn’t expect the whiteness of the publishing world, despite knowing about the Lee & Low 2015 Diversity in Publishing Baseline Survey when I decided to pursue children’s publishing. I think knowing is one thing and experiencing it is another. I’ve found that making publishing friends you can talk to and going to gatherings or Zoom calls is really helpful and grounding.
Are there any published or forthcoming kidlit books you’d recommend?
I’m really looking forward to reading The Silvered Serpents, which is the sequel of The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi! I also want to read Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love. The first book, Julián Is a Mermaid, is so heartfelt and beautiful.
A recent graduate of Tufts University, Samantha Leong is a sales assistant at Ingram Content Group. She has previously interned at Scholastic Library Publishing, Candlewick Press, and Simon and Schuster. Her favorite genre is fantasy, and she loves to bake, especially as a form of procrastination.
Alaina (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.